13 Best Online RN to MSN-PMHNP Programs For 2024

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

Are you an ADN-educated-registered nurse with a love of psychiatry and the desire to be a part of promoting mental health and wellness with a broader scope of practice than you currently have? If so, the thought of becoming a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) may have crossed your mind. Even RNs with busy work and family schedules can achieve the goal of becoming a PMHNP by choosing one of the online RN to MSN-psychiatric nurse practitioner programs that are available. Throughout this article, I will provide you with a list of some of the best online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs for 2024 and give you information about each one. I will tell you about admission requirements, coursework, and cost and answer some questions that readers like you want answered.

What Exactly Is the Goal of an RN To MSN-PMHNP Program?

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is an advanced practice registered nurse who has been educated and prepared to provide mental health services and psychiatric care to clients. The primary goal of the RN to MSN-PHMNP programs is to prepare associate degree registered nurses to provide expert care to patients with psychiatric disorders and/or psychosocial issues in various healthcare settings. Graduates of the best RN to MSN-PMHNP programs online will perform psychiatric evaluations, identify mental health risks, assess and diagnose mental illness and disease, and create and implement appropriate care plans for their clients.

5 Top Reasons to Go from an RN with an ADN to an MSN-Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Choosing to make a career move like going from an RN with ADN to an MSN-PMHNP is a big step. There are some great reasons to pursue a higher degree. Below are the top five reasons to enroll in one of the best RN to MSN-PMHNP programs online and follow that dream!

1. Increased Job Opportunity:

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports there are approximately 13,000 PMHNPs in the United States today. With increased awareness of mental health issues and the number of diagnosed disorders continuing to rise, the need for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners will increase as well, making online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs a great option.

2. Earn a Higher Salary:

The average salary for an associate-level registered nurse is approximately $71,000. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners typically begin their careers earning a little over $109,000 annually.

3. Increased Career Paths to Choose From:

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can choose to work with patients of all ages across the lifespan or work with a specific patient population in a variety of settings.

4. More Predictable Schedules:

Many nurses are faced with the frustration of working long hours and alternating shifts. Choosing to pursue a specialty and becoming a PMHNP can open the door for opportunities to work a more regular schedule in settings such as a mental health clinic or a counseling center.

5. Impact the Mental Health and Wellness of Others:

Today, more than ever, society has begun to realize the importance of mental health and wellness and the impact that emotional or mental imbalance can have on one's overall health. As a PMHNP, you can play an active role in improving the balance between your patients' psychological and physical health.

How Long Are Online RN to MSN-PMHNP Programs?

The best online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs generally take two to five years to complete. Factors that influence how long it takes to complete a program include whether you enter the program with an ADN or BSN nursing degree or an ADN with a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field. The decision to enroll part-time or full-time will also determine whether it takes you a shorter or longer amount of time to graduate.

Here are a few examples:

1. The RN to MSN-PMHNP program at

Vanderbilt University

can be completed as little as one year of full-time enrollment or two years of part-time enrollment.

Georgia State University

offers part-time and full-time options for enrollment in their online RN to MSN-PMHNP program. Part-time students may take three to four years to complete the program, while full-time students typically finish a year earlier.

East Tennessee State University

requires students to complete 48 credit hours and can be completed in as little as five semesters of full-time study.

How Much Do Online RN to MSN-PMHNP Programs Cost?

Online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs vary in cost averaging from $15,000 to over $90,000. Your current degree level upon entry into the program could be a significant factor in the program's overall cost as it will determine the coursework you need to complete to meet your school's graduation requirements. The examples listed below are for some of the best ADN-RN to MSN-PMHNP programs.

The RN to MSN-PMHNP program at Wilkes University requires students to complete twenty-seven credit hours at $728 each, making the program cost approximately $19,656. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the program curriculum consists of thirty credit hours with both in-state and out-of-state students paying $505 per credit hour, totaling $15,150. Students at the University of Rochester follow a degree plan that includes fifty-four credit hours at a rate of $1,610 each, making the program's cost of coursework $86,940.

Students may incur additional costs, such as technology fees, testing fees, the expense of background checks, and drug testing. There is also the expense of travel to and from clinical sites, uniforms for clinical, and meals while out.


The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) is an independent organization whose expertise regulatory bodies for nursing rely upon to act and collaborate on matters that deal with public health, safety and welfare, and the development of nursing licensure exams. The APRN Consensus Model, which the NCSBN developed, offers guidance for states with an effort focused on creating a sense of uniformity in the regulation of advanced practice nursing roles, required education, as well as licensure and certification criteria. The Consensus Model has not yet been adopted in every state. However, even the states which have not accepted the model completely typically follow similar guidelines. Further, although coursework for RN to MSN-PMHNP programs may vary somewhat from school to school, colleges and universities are often closely aligned with one another when developing course curriculum for their programs.

Students enrolled in the best online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs are typically required to complete foundational courses such as:

◦ Biostatistics
◦ Clinical Management
◦ Advanced Pharmacology
◦ Advanced Pathophysiology
◦ Ethics

Below are examples of some coursework required at some of the online RN to MSN-psychiatric nurse practitioner programs we are discussing in this article. Please note that the courses listed are not inclusive of all required classes and are only examples of classes required explicitly at the college listed. Courses listed for one school may also be needed to complete the same program at another and are listed here as samples only. An academic advisor at your school of choice will help you develop your course plan by reviewing your previous coursework and any eligible transfer credits.

Nova Southeastern University

◦ Neurobiology Psychopharmacology
◦ Psychiatric Management 1: Psychopathology and the DSM V
◦ Psychiatric Management II: Developmental Theories for Child and Adolescent Mental Health
◦ Psychiatric Management III: Modalities of Psychotherapy

University of Mississippi Medical Center

◦ Clinical Pharmacotherapeutics
◦ Advanced Physiology/Pathophysiology
◦ Clinical Assessment of Persons with Mental Health Problems I and II
◦ Clinical Management of Families and Groups with Mental Health Problems

Union University

◦ Mental Health Assessment and Diagnostic Reasoning Across the Lifespan (includes 160 clinical hours)
◦ Psychopharmacology Across the Lifespan
◦ Management of Acute and Chronic Mental Health Disorders: Children and Adolescents (includes 160 clinical hours)
◦ Management of Acute and Chronic Mental Health Disorders: Adult/Geriatric Populations (includes 160 clinical hours)

Clinical Training

State boards of nursing regulate the number of clinical hours students in their nursing programs must complete to satisfy licensure and certification eligibility requirements. Although some schools may require more hours than others, online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs typically require students to complete a minimum of five hundred hours of graduate-level, supervised clinical practicum relevant to psychiatric care.

Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, has a 540 clinical hour requirement for students enrolled in its RN to MSN-PMHNP program. Stony Brook University students must accumulate at least 600 clinical hours to meet graduation criteria, while Vanderbilt University has a 620 clinical hour requirement.

Students in online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs are often responsible for choosing and arranging clinical sites and preceptors. As you apply to different programs, it is a good idea to ask about clinical requirements and whether the school helps to facilitate arrangements.

Admission Requirements

Nursing schools reserve the right to determine the admission requirements applicants must meet to be enrolled. Although guidelines may vary among schools, general admission criteria are usually common among all programs.

For example, minimum admission requirements to online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs typically include the following:

◦ Possess an associate-level nursing degree with a current, unencumbered license to practice
◦ Provide letters of reference
◦ Submit official transcripts from all post-secondary schools attended
◦ Provide resume’ or curriculum vitae
◦ Submit a letter of intent


University of South Alabama

admits all RN to MSN students on a Provisional Admission status. Prospective students must possess and/or submit the following before being for admission.

◦ A minimum 2.75-grade point average on a 4.0 scale for all undergraduate coursework
◦ Resume’ with detailed clinical experience. (Before enrolling in the clinical part of the program, students are required to have at least two years of work experience in psychiatric settings.
◦ After acceptance into the RN to MSN-PMHNP program, admission to the program's nursing component is contingent upon submission of Health Data Forms, Health Insurance verification, a criminal background check, and a negative drug screening.

Lewis University

offers new sessions that begin every eight weeks, making it convenient for approved applicants to start classes within a short period after acceptance. Admission criteria to the LU RN to MSN-PMHNP program include the following.

◦• Complete undergraduate courses in statistics and nursing research
• Provide a written essay that describes your clinical experience and reason for pursuing this degree
• One year of clinical work experience in a psychiatric-relevant setting

East Tennessee State University

◦ Cumulative 3.0-grade point average on a 4.0 scale on all undergraduate coursework
◦ BSN from a nationally-accredited nursing program OR
◦ Associate nursing degree and a non-nursing bachelor’s degree

3 Major Challenges You Will Face in an RN to MSN-PMHNP Program and How to Overcome Them

Nurse practitioner programs are challenging, as they should be. They are, after all, designed to prepare nurses to provide advanced care to patients with varying degrees of emotional and mental health issues. With all the advantages of pursuing a higher degree such as MSN-PMHNP, it is still necessary to acknowledge that you will face some challenges, even in the best online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs. Below is a list of three major challenges many RN to MSN-PMHNP students face and some ideas on overcoming them.

Challenge #1: Maintaining a schedule that is conducive to study without interruption in family responsibilities or work obligations

While online nurse practitioner programs are a convenient option for nurses who want to achieve a higher degree within a specialty area, some challenges come with them. Students in online programs can enjoy the benefit of choosing when and where to study, which makes spending time with family or keeping a job possible. However, you will still be responsible for keeping up with the course load of your program. As the program progresses, courses become complex and clinical practicum hours increase.

Solution: Discuss your academic goals with your family and employer.

If you have children who are old enough to take on some extra chores, create a plan and offer a reward system for work that they complete. A movie night or a trip to the bowling alley can be a big motivator for teens, especially. Meal prep, when possible, to give yourself less time in the kitchen and more time to study. Ask your employer about possible changes in your work schedule that will allow you to continue to earn an income without interfering with school obligations. Create a schedule and stick with it. If you prefer to study and work on assignments early in the morning before the chaos of the day begins, schedule that time. Whatever you do, stay as close to the schedule as possible. If you do, everyone will know your expectations and what they can expect from you as you navigate your way to program completion.

Challenge #2: Not being prepared for clinical rotations

It is not uncommon for students in online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs to be responsible for selecting clinical sites and preceptors in preparation for the program's clinical practicum portion. If you have limited work experience or are not familiar with facilities that provide psychiatric care, you may be unsure what to do in preparation for clinicals.

Solution: Start looking for clinical sites and preceptors as soon as you are admitted to the program.

Although you may be required to find clinical sites and preceptors, your program or clinical director will have to give approval and make sure proper contracts and documentation are prepared before you begin. Some facilities may provide psychiatric care but not be appropriate for certain clinical portions of the program. Also, you may find a person who is willing to be your preceptor, but they must meet the criteria established by your school before being approved. If you begin talking to possible preceptors and visiting clinical sites early on, you will be able to provide a list of potential locations and mentors for approval. Knowing where you will go to earn the required clinical hours and who your preceptors will be can help alleviate some of the stress associated with such a rigorous program.

Challenge #3: Lack of Self-Care

To some, this challenge may seem simple compared to the other things you may face while earning your degree. However, self-care is an essential part of maintaining a healthy body and mind balance. If you are not taking care of yourself, you will find it challenging to provide quality care for your patients.

Solution: Schedule some personal time for yourself

Self-care does not have to be complicated. Simple things like taking twenty or thirty minutes a day to relax and unwind can make a significant difference in how your mind and body respond to the demands of being in nurse practitioner school. Light some candles and soak in a warm bath with bath oils or salts. Turn on some relaxing music. Go for a walk in the park or ride your bicycle. If you have not practiced self-care before, you need to start now. You may be surprised at the difference you experience in your ability to concentrate and stay on track by simply taking a little time for yourself.


(These RN to MSN-PMHNP programs are ideal for ADN-Educated Registered Nurses who wish to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.)

1. Vanderbilt University - Nashville, TN

2. University of Alabama at Birmingham - Birmingham, AL

3. University of South Alabama - Mobile, AL

4. Stony Brook University - Stony Brook, NY

5. University of Mississippi Medical Center - Jackson, MS

6. Regis College - Weston, MA

7. University of Rochester - Rochester, NY

8. Nova Southeastern University - Ft Lauderdale, FL

9. Union University - Jackson, TN

10. Lewis University - Romeoville, IL

11. Georgia State University - Atlanta, GA

12. East Tennessee State University - Johnson City, TN

13. Wilkes University - Wilkes-Barre, PA


Career Opportunities After Completing This Program

After completing your education from any of the accredited RN to MSN-psychiatric nurse practitioner programs online, you will find many career opportunities. PMHNPs often work in hospitals, inpatient psychiatric units, outpatient psychiatric clinics, community mental health centers, and correctional facilities. Domestic violence shelters and Veterans Administration facilities often offer the services of psychiatric nurse practitioners. Clients in both these facilities may experience mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) related to the trauma they experienced.

Average Salary

As mentioned previously, graduates of RN to MSN-psychiatric nurse practitioner programs online often see a substantial increase in earning capacity. According to payscale.com, the average annual salary for MSN-PMHNPs is $109,308. This salary is equal to $52.55 hourly or $9,110 monthly. With experience, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners begin to earn higher wages. Other than clinical work experience, factors such as where you practice, the shift you work, and any other certifications you have may help negotiate a larger salary.

Hourly $52.55
Monthly $9,110
Annual $109,308
(Source: payscale.com)

Job Outlook

Of the nearly 300,000 nurse practitioners currently licensed in the United States, the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) estimates that only 1.8 percent specialize in psychiatric mental health care. As mental health disorders are diagnosed in increased numbers, the need for qualified psychiatric providers grows. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports the need for more than six thousand psychiatric care providers. Although the US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not give statistics for each nurse practitioner specialty separately, it estimates a projected growth in nurse practitioner jobs of forty-five percent from 2019 to 2029. With all these factors in mind, it is easy to assume that the job outlook for graduates of psychiatric nurse practitioner programs to be quite good.


Providing care for individuals who are experiencing mental health disorders or emotional issues can be a fulfilling experience. If you are a registered nurse who thinks it is time to make a career change or who currently works with psychiatric patients but desires to do more, becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner could be a perfect fit for you. After reading this article and reviewing some of the best online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs for 2024, you have the information needed to help you decide if this program is something you want to pursue. If you find yourself believing a career as a PMHNP should be your next goal, start today by contacting schools and applying to programs. The sooner you apply and become accepted, the sooner you can become a part of this exceptional group of mental health care professionals.


Are there financial aid options available for students in online RN to MSN-PMHNP programs?

Yes, there are many options to explore for financial assistance as you pursue your MSN-PMHNP degree. Perhaps one of the easiest and most important steps is to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA), which will help you see if you qualify for federal grants or loans. Also, employer-sponsored scholarships, private loans, and work-study programs are other options.

What is the next step after graduating from an online RN to MSN-PMHNP program?

After completing a PMHNP program, the next step is to apply for and take a board certification exam, such as the test administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Certification credentials are required to practice in your chosen specialty and must be maintained/renewed throughout your career.

If I graduate from an online RN to MSN-PMHNP program, can I prescribe medication?

A PMHNP's prescribing authority varies from state to state. Your state board of nursing will be able to provide information to you regarding your practice authority, including the ability to prescribe medications.

What is the most important thing I should ask about when choosing an online RN to MSN-PMHNP program?

Hands down, accreditation is the most important thing you should look for when choosing a school and program that is right for you. Being accredited requires meeting strict standards. Therefore, attending an accredited RN to MSN-psychiatric nurse practitioner program can give you peace of mind in knowing that you will be well-prepared for your career after graduation and that your credentials will be accepted.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years' experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels.